Why Working From Home Will Make You More Productive

With a dark, "potentially historic" storm cloud literally looming over our heads here in the Northeast, we're having an internal debate for the ages: to go into the office or work from home? On the one hand, you have too much work to do to be distracted by anything at home. But then again, the idea of wearing sweatpants all day is pretty tempting.

While some research suggests that, if you work from home, you may miss out on psychological and social benefits of the workplace. But since it would only be for a day or two, to ride out the snow storm, I doubt this research applies. You likely won't be pining for that small talk with your coworkers so immediately. And if you're worried about not being productive, new research from Stanford University found that working from home can actually increase productivity.

In a piece in Harvard Business Review, Nicholas Bloom and John Roberts share the details of a study they recently conducted with China's largest travel agency, Ctrip.

About half of the 250 Ctrip employees that volunteered to work from home were given their boss's permission to do so, while the other half that had to come into the office made up the control group. Over a period of nine months, Bloom and Roberts tracked the productivity levels of the employees.

These are their surprising results:

First, the performance of the home-workers went up dramatically, increasing by 13% over the course of nine months. This increase in output came mainly from a rise in the number of minutes they worked during each shift, which was due to a reduction in the number of breaks and sick days that they took. The home-workers were also more productive per minute, which employees told us (in detailed surveys) was due to the quieter working conditions at home.

And as for the in-office employees, Bloom and Roberts found no significant changes in their productivity or number of absences compared to before they were given the option to work from home.

Ctrip, which was initially skeptical about participating in the experiment for fear of plummeting productivity levels, was sold. At the conclusion of the experiment, the executives gave all of their employees permission to work from home whenever they felt like it. However, rather surprisingly, half of those who had spent nine months working from home decided to return to the office, and 75% of those who had stayed in the office despite volunteering to work from home continued to work in the office.

"The main reason seems to be that people who worked from home were lonely," write Bloom and Roberts.

Their advice? Companies should give their employees the option to work from home from time to time — especially when working on solo projects. People like choices. They also encourage companies to use opportunities like bad weather (hello Juno!), traffic congestion, or major event that might disrupt commutes (like a parade) to see how well their employees work from home.

In other words, employers shouldn't be so hesitant to close the office when it starts to flurry. Even if the storm only turns out to be a light dusting, there might actually be benefits to sending your employees home prematurely.

As for the times you're absolutely required to be in the office, try not to be so bitter. You might not know it, but you probably prefer water cooler talk to lounging in sweatpants.

(h/t New York Magazine)

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